This season of ghosts, zombies and goblins seems the perfect time to explore the presence of ghosts in Scripture. Our clergy discuss instances where ghosts seem to make an appearance.
Pastor James Krauser, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, North Bellmore:
Scripture raises the issue of ghosts in only a few instances. One is related to Jesus when he appears to the disciples walking across the sea at night. The other is after the Resurrection. Jesus asks for food and eats it to show that he has a real body and is not a ghost.
In I Samuel, Saul consults the witch of Endor, who recalls the spirit of the deceased Prophet Samuel to speak to him. It is one of the reasons Saul loses favor with God and is overthrown. From this, some draw the conclusion that communication with a ghost is not acceptable.
The Hebrews would say there is only one God. All others -- ghosts, psychics, fortunetellers -- are just frauds or demons. This also is Paul's consistent message. That explains part of the Protestant aversion to praying to saints. The dead do not hear the voices of the living. And the living do not hear the voice of the dead.
We do believe saints should be revered but not prayed to. When we say rest in peace, we mean it. Leave them alone. For Christians, our trust in the Lord and his spirit that is with us, if not his angels, teaches us that we need not fear those things that go bump in the night. I also should say that I don't in any way believe in ghosts or psychics.
Father Thomas A. Cardone, S.M., Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale:
As we approach Halloween, ghosts, goblins and all sorts of monsters that can fit into a costume can be seen "trick-or-treating" or at parties. Ghosts are in the Bible, but they are mistaken images of the spiritual life. What do I mean? When the disciples see Jesus walking on water, they are quick to say, "It's a ghost." Then, Jesus corrects them, saying, "It is I. Do not be afraid."
At the Resurrection appearance in Luke's Gospel, the disciples once again think Jesus is a ghost. Jesus once again corrects them, saying, "It is I . . . ghosts do not have flesh or blood."
"Ghosts" are in the Bible, but in reality ghosts are in the distorted, superstitious minds of the early believers, not in reality. Jesus did not believe in ghosts, and neither do we. Ghosts are the mistaken images of the spiritual life.
Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet, Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai:
The answer depends largely on what we mean by "ghosts." While we do not necessarily find the image of a ghost that haunts our Halloween nightmares also haunting the pages of the Torah, the concept of the ghost is well rooted within Jewish thought, including within Talmud and Kabbalah.
The ghost is the neshamah, or the soul, of a person. Judaism believes in the immortality of the soul, that the soul goes on to exist even after the body ends.
When the Torah speaks of death, we are told that a person is "gathered unto his people." This means that the soul of the newly deceased reunites with the souls of those who passed on before him. These souls -- some might choose to call them angels, others might choose to call them ghosts -- watch over the living, protecting and guiding us. They are not to be feared; in fact, they would fare poorly in a Halloween haunted house. Rather, they are very much a comfort to us, knowing that our soul will live on, even when our bodies are no more.
In this context, the ghost -- or rather the neshamah -- very much has a place in Jewish Scripture as the souls of our dear ones who have passed on to eternal life.